2021 Grant Winners

Thank you to all who applied for the 2021 Summer Thesis Research Grants. Congratulations to the 2021 recipients for their outstanding work!

Summer thesis research grants are generously support by members of the Harvard Asian American Alumni Alliance, donors to the EMR Fund, and the Instituto Cervantes Observatory of the Spanish Language. We are enormously grateful to those who make these opportunities possible.


My senior thesis combines my Ethnic Studies interest in History & Literature as well as my studies of Contemporary Art. I examine the work of contemporary photographer Renee Cox to see how her work subverts expectations established by the Western art historical canon and reclaims Black female subjectivity. Cox's work has drawn ire from cishetero white men — Rudy Giuliani infamously referred to Cox's Yo Mama's Last Supper as "disgusting." I will hone in on this photograph, in which Cox casts herself as the nude Messiah, and study the reactions it garnered in order to prove Cox's efficiency in reclamatory action.


Project Title: American Anxiety: Anti-Discrimination, Anti-Communism and the Immigration Act of 1965

My name is Alec Fischthal and I am a History concentrator. For my thesis, I intend to focus my research on investigating changes to American immigration policy during the 1960s. In particular, I will examine the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. This notable piece of legislation fundamentally moved the American immigration system away from a discriminatory system of national origin quotas toward a more inclusive system of entrance. I will assess the Act’s passage in the context of the global Cold War, investigating the way international geopolitical concerns such as anti-communism impacted, limited, and profoundly shaped domestic immigration reform efforts.




My research looks at questions of Cherokee slaveholding in the decades surrounding forced emigration from to Indian Territory. I hope to add to the body of historical work which has traced different connections between the institution of slavery and the dispossession of Cherokee lands. In particular, I will try to understand how the U.S. government, Cherokee nation, and Black people within the Cherokee nation viewed the possibility for coexistence between the institution of slavery and Native sovereignty. I first became interested in these questions my freshman year after learning about the connections between Racial Capitalism and imperialism, and began to see connections between these topics and Cherokee slaveholding in a seminar I took my junior year with Professor Tiya Miles.


My senior thesis is a comparative study on how the victim/ survivor binary impacts the possibility of justice for Black women who have experienced gender based violence. My plan is to use art pieces created by two women who have experienced gender violence from across Afro-Latin America to analyze themes of self-identification, justice definition, and community response. I aim to show that the victim/ survivor binary is rooted in a carceral logic which prohibits genuine and productive justice. My thesis will tie together how the expansive and creative nature of art as well as abolition transcend the binary and reject incarceration. I aim to provide a platform for Black women who have historically practiced abolitionist modes of justice, partially due to a precarious relationship with law enforcement and especially a deep commitment to community.  


Project Title: Undocumented Pedagogy: Undocumented Youth Confrtoning the Coloniality of the Nation-State in Schools and Neighborhoods

Seminal research on undocumented youth has presumed the U.S. K-12 school system as a buffer from the experience of illegality.  The unremitting imposition of the Eurocentered World Capitalist System since America's colonization, however, has motivated the application of the Deportation Regime within schools and localities as a method of maintaining the White citizen's capital excess (as education and humanity) against the non-White, noncitizen: thus, undocumented children encounter their illegality through their restricted educational access and deportability. As an undocumented individual myself, I am urged to explore pedagogical and abolitionist intervention to the authorized|unauthorized divide—articulated by the coloniality I underscore—that can be practically applied.


Kelsey Chen, in her project "Intimate Counter-Cartographies: Asian American Artistic Resistance to Visual Technologies of Domination," will be studying the counterhegemonic interventions of Asian American visual art against structures of white supremacy. This project explores how visual technologies have been deployed in service of power, how racial formation is mediated by optical disciplinary techniques, and how specific patterns within contemporary Asian American art engage and challenge this scopic regime. Kelsey first found her interest in understanding how power is produced and negotiated through visual channels out of her own oil painting practice. As an artist herself, Kelsey thinks it is imperative to engage questions of art and world-making--how vision and art are critical to imagining a more just and beautiful world.


Title: Where the Hospital Fails to Reach: Radically Reconceptualizing Birth for Black Women

My thesis project explores out-of-hospital birth practices such as midwifery and doula services as liberatory and community-based alternatives for Black women, particularly in the American South, in the context of the violent biases and failures of the western medical environment in the United States. I have spent much of my undergraduate career passionate about reproductive and birth justice. Through my thesis, I want to get immersed in the movement on the ground and highlight the significance of this work and the value of networks of care, particularly for Black women.


My research aims to contextualize the crisis of denaturalization that is happening in the Dominican Republic through a historical perspective. I will look at the campaign of mass denaturalization that the Dominican government has unleashed on Dominicans of Haitian and tackle broad questions of migration, nationality, statelessness, borders, and race. I seek to answer the questions: What are the historical roots of the crisis of denaturalization and deportation in the Dominican Republic? What role does the creation of borders have? How has the situation evolved between the 1980s and the present day? What is the role of race in this crisis? And what does the present-day reality for Dominicans of Haitian descent look like? Above all, I aim to tell the story of the people affected by the crisis.


My project is tentatively titled "Combating Slavery at Sea: Humanitarianism and the Migrant-State Relationship in Thailand". I plan to study NGOs that who work with Cambodian and Burmese trafficked laborers in the Thai fishing industry, and look at how factors such as corporate funding and religious ties influence their on-the-ground work. I'm interested in this topic because I think it's important to understand and question the context of humanitarian interventions — this particular project was inspired by my time spent interning with International Justice Mission during the summer of 2019, as well as my work with the Thai Studies Program.